STANFORD (CBS SF) – Stanford researchers report they are a step closer to helping men overcome the most common factor of male infertility, at the same time potentially eliminating the need for a live male to reproduce.
Scientists from the School of Medicine, in partnership with Montana State University, tested skin cells from a group of infertile men with a common condition known as azoospermia, which prevents them from making mature sperm. According to Stanford’s Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Education, transplanting skin cells from those men into the reproductive system of mice resulted in primordial germ cells, which normally develop into sperm. The findings were published this week in the journal Cell Reports.
“The research used skin samples from five men to create what are known as induced pluripotent stem cells, which closely resemble embryonic stem cells in their ability to become nearly any tissue in the body. Three of the men carried a type of mutation on their Y chromosome known to prevent the production of sperm,” says a report from Stanford’s School of Medicine.
“We saw better germ-cell differentiation in this transplantation model than we’ve ever seen,” said Renee Reijo Pera, PhD, former director of Stanford’s Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Education in the report.
“Studying why this is the case will help us understand where the problems are for these men and hopefully find ways to overcome them,” said Pera.
At the same time, some argue the generation of sperm form stem cells presents some serious new ethical dilemmas, including the production and availability of an individual’s sperm without his consent.
“It’s opening up a brave new world,” Dartmouth biochemist Ronald Green tells National Public Radio. “You can imagine some clandestine sperm bank saying, ‘We’re selling George Clooney’s sperm.’ ”
Green says the development could even open the door for reproduction after death.
“People who are dead or long dead — so long as there is a live tissue sample somewhere being preserved — could be the parents of children,” Green told NPR.
Pera said she thinks people are more inclined to want their own child, but acknowledges that technological advancements like this can be misused.
Researchers hope to continue similar testing on non-human primates and to run similar tests with other types of infertility-associated mutations.